Candidates for governor voiceviews at debate

by Brian Close

Education and taxes were the key issues at a gubernatorial forum held at the Jewish Community Center Wednesday, although a broad variety of topics were discussed.
Eight of the candidates appeared, and answered questions from the audience, including some on higher education. And while the candidates differed on some issues, the audience of about 100 people found them agreeing on a number of others.
Participating candidates were: former state legislators Ted Mondale and Allen Quist, local businessman Dick Borrell, former mayor of Brooklyn Park Jesse Ventura, Leslie Davis, founder of Earth Protector, Hennepin county attorney Mike Freeman, Attorney General Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III and Lieutenant Governor Joanne Benson.
Not present were state Senator John Marty, former state treasurer Mark Dayton and state Senator Roy Terwilliger.
The candidates were split between education and tax relief as their top priorities and made their differences known.
“The No. 1 issue facing the state of Minnesota is the quality of our educational programs,” said Quist, a Republican.
“I disagree,” said Borrell, a Republican. “I think the biggest issue is our high rate of taxes.”
The comments on tax relief drew applause from the mixed crowd.
One candidate had a different priority at the top of his list.
Leslie Davis, founder and president of Earth Protector, Inc. said he would focus on environmental issues.
“We have asthma, mercury, lead, rivers that stink and air you can’t breathe,” he said.
Davis proposed taxing businesses for their use of groundwater and using the money for environmental projects.
He also said the state’s higher education needs have to be addressed.
“Anybody that wants to go to college should be able to do so whether they can afford it or not,” he said before the debate.
Other candidates also mentioned plans to give free college to students.
Mondale, a Democrat, had a plan in which students who graduated from Minnesota high schools, performed community service and received “B” grades would receive free college for two or four years.
Freeman also proposed the state pay for college, but for one year, calling it 14 years of free education, including a full day of kindergarten, for all students.
In another education issue, the candidates were asked their feelings on school vouchers, the controversial plan to allow parents to apply state money towards private schools.
Nearly all of the candidates spoke out against vouchers.
“Public education is the centerpiece of education and we ought to keep our public money in public schools,” said Humphrey, a Democrat.
Another issue that received unanimous consensus was the Twins stadium subsidy. All agreed it should not be built with public money.
“Build your own damn stadium,” said Ventura, an independent. Quist and Borrell, Republicans, described Ventura’s statement as “eloquent.”
Davis had another suggestion.
“I think they should take the roof off and lower the Cokes to $1,” he said, drawing laughter.
In one three-part question, the candidates were asked to speak their stance on abortion, gay rights and the death penalty.
Almost all the candidates favored equal treatment for all people and all opposed the death penalty, except for Ventura.
He said he is sick of seeing people with a life sentence get out after seven years, and therefore is not necessarily against the death penalty.
“I will oppose the death penalty when life (sentence) is life,” he said.
With such an overall consensus among the candidates on so many issues, some in the audience wondered how to tell the difference.
One audience member, Bill Helgeson, said there may be a problem with the format, which allowed candidates one minute to answer a question written by an audience member.
“I would like a little more of a debate format where they could throw questions back and forth,” he said.
Wade Russell, another spectator, also said the candidates were blending together, and that he was trying to get an impression of the most genuine candidate.
“Have they really said anything yet?” he asked.

— Staff Reporter Emily Dalnodar contributed to this story.